Jun 25, 2017


 Keah Brown, a writer and activist who has cerebral palsy, breaks down the pervasiveness of ableism in the media—and how to do better.

It’s hard living in a world that sees your body as a thing to be horrified of. No one chooses disability. The only choice in disability is to adapt—not in spite of it, but because we deserve to live as well as possible. When Lorde likened celebrity and its restrictions to an autoimmune disease earlier this week, I was taken aback. She’s since apologized, and though it was short, I believe she was sincere. The problem with her initial comment is it exposes a deeper and larger problem in our popular culture and society today. Lorde isn’t the first person to conflate disabilities with unpleasant or unwanted situations, and she won’t be the last.

There is a pervasive belief in our society that disabled people are too much work, are burdens, and that we don’t like ourselves or our bodies. Popular culture upholds this falsehood while often showing only one type of disabled body— a white male wheelchair user, like in Me Before YouThe Fundamentals of Caring and ABC’s Speechless. On critically acclaimed shows like CW’s Jane The Virgin, the idea of disability and paraplegia is met with shock and borderline horror. When Michael (Brett Dier) was shot by a crime lord, his family and loved ones were informed the surgery may have paralyzed him. The minute the words left the doctor’s mouth, the atmosphere on the show shifted. The family’s concern wasn’t that Michael would have to adjust to life as a full-time wheelchair user, or how best to help him, but that even the possibility of disability was too much to handle. In the Netflix series Man To Man, a cop is intentionally run over by a semi truck. When the subject of possible paraplegia is brought up, it is met with quiet horror from the character’s family members. 
"Lorde isn’t the first person to conflate disabilities with unpleasant or unwanted situations, and she won’t be the last."
Lorde’s comparison of disability to negative situations or, rather, inconvenient ones, is inaccurate and harmful. The idea that those of us with autoimmune diseases can be equated to an inconvenience affects not only our self-esteems, but promotes a negative narrative of disabled people echoed in films like Me Before You and Million Dollar Baby. In these movies, disability is met with anger and frustration, the wish for death and ultimately, the fulfillment of that wish, sending the message that disabled bodies are inconvenient and not worth living in. It’s difficult to watch these movies receive praise, because that tells real-life disabled folks that resentment and death are the only ways to function in our bodies. 
Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in Me Before You
EverettDesign by American Artist
While I believe Lorde’s comment warranted an apology, we have to remember it’s part of a larger issue—that society treats disability like the worst possible thing. As someone who loves popular culture, this truth is heartbreaking, and a large part of the reason I spent most of my adolescent and teenage years hating my body and myself. I’m sure some people think, “Relax, it’s just one comment,” but statements like Lorde’s help shape culture and public perception of certain lived experiences. We can’t continue to move forward in society unless the disability community feels properly seen and heard.
"Films like Me Before You and Million Dollar Baby send the message that disabled bodies are inconvenient and not worth living in."

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